The $46.5 billion rent relief program set up to pay rent accrued during the pandemic continues to pay out money at a slow pace as the White House braces for a Supreme Court order that would impose a new national moratorium on evictions. can cancel.
The Emergency Rental Assistance Program, funded in the two federal pandemic aid packages approved last year, sputtered on in July, with just $1.7 billion being distributed by state and local governments, according to the Treasury Department, which oversees keeps on schedule.
The money distributed was a modest increase from the previous month, bringing total aid to date to about $5.1 billion, figures released early Wednesday showed, or about 11 percent of the money sent by the government. Congress was assigned to prevent an eviction crisis that is now becoming increasingly likely for many housing experts.
“About a million payments have now gone to families — it’s starting to help a significant number of families,” said Gene Sperling, who oversees the operation of federal emergency aid programs for President Biden.
“It’s just not close enough in an emergency like this to protect all the families who need and deserve protection. So there is still a lot more to do and to do quickly,” he added.
The report came as Mr Biden’s domestic policy officer mapped out the policy mishaps if the Supreme Court lifts the moratorium, which is the government’s main safeguard for hundreds of thousands of low-income, working-class tenants hardest hit by the pandemic. White House attorneys expect a court ruling this week.
The moratorium was initially implemented in September last year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under President Donald J. Trump. Mr Biden extended it several times this year but let it expire briefly earlier this month. He reinstated it, in a slightly modified form, on August 3 under pressure from Congressional Democrats.
That latest 60-day extension, overturned by White House attorneys, was meant to buy more time to distribute emergency rent relief.
The program is administered by the federal government, but it’s up to the states to put in place a system to provide assistance to struggling tenants and landlords, which is the root cause of the problems.
Speaking on a conference call Tuesday night, officials from the Treasury Department and the White House acknowledged that the program was not getting underway quickly enough to completely avert a wave of evictions, even if the judges allowed it in place. remained until its scheduled expiration on October 10. 2.
But they also mentioned progress. State and local agencies have begun steadily increasing payments to hundreds of thousands of households at risk of eviction, most going to low-income renters. They also believe that the pace of payments continued to accelerate in August.
On Wednesday, the Treasury Department introduced a series of incremental changes designed to pressure states to act more quickly. But government officials continue to blame the program’s problems on local officials, many of whom are reluctant to take advantage of the program’s new rapid application process, which allows tenants to self-certify their financial information.
In recent weeks, local officials have complained that acting too quickly on aid requests can lead to errors, fraud and audits; the White House has responded by telling them those risks are insignificant compared to a wave of evictions hitting tenants who didn’t get their help fast enough to keep a roof over their heads.
“They can and should use simpler applications, faster processes and a self-declaration option without undue delays,” added Mr. Sperling.
Several states, including Texas, have been particularly effective at ramping up their aid distribution systems, officials said. But many others — especially New York, Florida, Tennessee, Ohio and South Carolina — have been slow, leaving tenants particularly vulnerable to displacement once the moratorium is lifted, they said.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, who was sworn in this week, has said speeding up the system is one of her top priorities.
States that have not used much of their money by the end of September may see their money being allocated to other states that have been able to distribute it better.
It will take weeks for local housing courts to clear the backlog of eviction cases postponed by the moratorium. But many owners, especially small landlords, have turned down federal aid, arguing that evicting non-paying tenants is not only their right, but the most effective way to ensure their income is not interrupted in the future.
Last week, Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo traveled to Hyattsville, Maryland, to speak with landlords, tenants and administrators of a rental aid program that has had success using self-reported applications and census data to determine eligibility for the rent reduction.
Government officials, concerned that a new moratorium could be lifted at any time, are also turning to state courts — which settle disputes between tenants and landlords — to help, by pressuring landlords to accept federal payments instead of proceeding with evictions, and educating tenants, who often do not have legal representation in court, on their right to seek assistance.